Who will be occupying Singhadurbar in a month? No one cares. It should not be that way. If KP Oli fails as a pandemic-time prime minister, people should believe Sher Bahadur Deuba or Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the two most likely candidates to replace him, might do a better job. Sadly, that too is not the case. Whether Oli remains prime minister or whether Deuba replaces him, Covid-19 will continue to push the country to the brink. This lack of options is a damning indictment of our democratic process and its principal actors.
In the US, the incoming Biden administration was able to turn around the country’s dismal Covid-19 record, successfully mobilizing the country’s health resources and persuading millions of Americans to shed their vaccine skepticism. Now most states in the US are largely corona-free. Biden’s leadership—high on action and accountability—was in stark contrast to Donald Trump’s—given to peddling pseudoscience and white nationalism. The choice between Biden and Trump could not have been starker.
No such choice is available to us. The country will most likely have an election, sooner rather than later. But the public is in no mood to vote. In a recent Niti Foundation survey of those aged 18-40 conducted across the country, fully 44 percent had zero interest in politics, while another 40 percent expressed only ‘some’ interest. Such widespread dissatisfaction with the political class among the country’s most productive workforce is not a healthy sign for the new federal republic. As the Covid-19 crisis worsens, this skepticism will further increase. What is to be done then?
There are no easy choices. But if our political parties are committed to helping the country emerge from the corona quagmire, there is no alternative to forging a broad political consensus, the kind seen in the immediate aftermath of the 2006 Jana Andolan. Back then, the political consensus was aimed at removing the vestiges of monarchy, helping the country transition to peace, and cementing progressive changes. Arguably, the country faces an even bigger crisis today. What better time to revive that old spirit of consensual politics?
Such a consensus has become vital not just to combat corona. The democratic system itself is at risk. If a democratic government cannot deliver during a grave national crisis, do we at all need democracy, people are asking? It is up to our main political actors—CPN-UML, Nepali Congress, CPN (Maoist Center), and JSPN—to remove their skepticism by showing that they can set aside political squabbles and again work together in the national interest. Otherwise, they will leave the space open for demagogues who can justifiably blame the political class for its collective failure on corona-control. (It won’t matter that the Oli government is largely responsible for the unfolding crisis.) The legitimacy of the entire political setup will be questioned.
Such political consensus is a long way off. But that should not stop our political actors from trying. After all, who would have thought that our querulous politicians—the same ones who had so badly debased national politics in the 1990s—could work together in the national interest? Back then, the common enemy was the autocratic monarchy; right now, it’s a deadly virus.